Posted in Learning

Happy Thoughts

A happy pupil is not always a pupil who is learning at a deeper level. We as teachers know this, that the element of stretch and challenge administered in high quality classrooms around the world might not be the aspect of schooling pupils rush home to laud to their parents about, but it has meaning and relevance and ultimately, a positive impact. The recent approach in UK schools towards combating the state of pupil mental health and happiness does stem from an important place as the article in the most recent TES depicts; my concern as a school leader is the perception of school and learning being one of pressure and burden rather than opportunity.

For me my role as an educator and then subsequently a leader has been clear; It’s all about relinquishing pressure at every strata of a school system. Schools are unbelievably complex entities and involve a vast array of components, all of which need maintenance  and care to keep them working, maybe not perfectly, but definitely so they are helping one another. We are there to shield the pressure, and through osmosis, allow our pupils to learn the relevant coping mechanisms to become well rounded learners and members of society .

 Chair of Governors shoulders the external pressure of MATs et al

The Head then looks to share the pressure through system leadership with the senior leadership team, emphasising the importance they all bring to the school

The SLT team then shield any undue pressure from the middle leadership team, who we all know are the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the school, driving new ideas and concepts in learning.

The teachers then make sure that no undue pressure is translated to the pupils, that they are challenged, but do not, in a fight or flight situation, crumble and not perform to the levels we know they can.

To me this is obvious, but this is not what is always exhibited to the wider world when we talk about teaching, learning, assessment and outcomes.

The level of Pupil’s anxiety being perpetuated in the media towards external testing can sometimes be there to distract from the actual meaning and value of summative assessment. Exams, tests, assessments, they are there to present pupils and staff with opportunities to celebrate the successes in learning. Nothing worth having is easy, and a test is there to test. If school leaders ensure that they are not over emphasising the issues around exams and testing, (SATS debacles, wrong GCSE questions, lateness of specs etc.), and model that way to cope with change, external accountability and challenge, the pupil’s outcomes and maybe even their happiness will exponentially increase.

Rather that then have to employ a Head of Wellbeing…..

Posted in Learning

A Teacher’s Reply

I recently read an article written by Caitlin Moran titled ‘Why I should be Education Secretary’ which addresses the perceived failings in our education system and her plan to tackle them. As a teacher, educator and life-long learner I wanted to compose a reply that clearly highlights why we as teachers worry about the perception we have outside of our sector if this is what is being delivered to them through their chosen vehicle of news, (The Times has over 5 million readers both in print and online).

The writer postulates that the plan to tackle under-performance and apathy within the education is based around 2 facts;

(1) the 21st-century job market requires basically nothing of what is taught in 21st-century schools, and

(2) everyone has a smartphone.

Now they are correct in stating that the jobs of the future will require ‘flexibility and self-motivation’ but stating that the composition of the education system will prevent this is wholly unfounded and echoes the age old rhetoric that is peddled by those who desperately but blindly seek to mirror our own education system with that of, say Finland or China (top of the PISA tables does not necessarily mean top learners).

There is a clear focus at the moment on The Language of Learning, and the subsequent skills that are born out of them. No matter what the subject, the topic, the lesson, the teacher is always thematically using the skills of say, resourcefulness to enable pupils to close that learning loop so they can become better individuals. They are there to create a love of learning. Does it always work? No. Does everything in adult life go according to your plans? Most definitely No. No teacher is there to just ‘get through the curriculum’ and focus on the empirical outcomes. Learning is experiential which is why most school leaders try to create curriculum timetables that allow each pupil to succeed in both cognitive and non-cognitive skills. Go to any school and throughout the day a pupil is called upon to evaluate their learning in a multitude of ways, and to then synthesise this into useable and applicable chunks personal to their own abilities. This is why we teach. This is why they want to learn.

I did not become a teacher because I wanted my pupils to get a job.

I think about Simon Sineck’s ‘Start With Why’ structure; Why do we teach? Because our pupils are at the centre of all we strive to do, and because learning is at the root of a successful society. The advent of more cross-curricular learning in KS2 and 3 and the implementation of new assessment structures across all subjects has led to pupils no longer being taught how to pass an exam, they are now becoming reflective and positively interpreting their own learning and how they can use it again.

Yes, if they finish their maths they will receive more maths, but at a more in-depth level so they can test and challenge themselves in a safe but not risk-averse environment. This prepares them for their future and fosters that intrinsic motivation we want them to have. If we focus on that extrinsic reward of a job, then why would they ever want to push themselves further?

Project based learning has many positives, many facets that will develop a learner to understand the importance of skills such as time management, organisation, resourcefulness, but I am unaware of any company who will readily allow employees to, having finished a project early, to then just leave on a holiday, I am almost certain they would be rewarded and then…..given more work?

And finally the smart phone.

Learning is about the journey, it is about building and harnessing the neuroplasticity of your brain and thickening the synaptic density over time. The density increases as we learn more, but plateaus out over time once we reach maturity when the opportunity to learn new things stops. Distance is its own reward, and as Dr R Winston brilliantly states in this video, building up these neural pathways is challenging but rewarding.  If we advocate the use of this ‘instant knowledge’ in our education system we end up with pupils who are not proactive, dare I say it, not very flexible and self-motivated?